Years ago, I attended my first Book Expo America, in New York City. I was new and nervous and overwhelmed, and I felt totally, completely out of place. My editor introduced me to another Harlequin writer, who immediately put me at ease. (Maybe that was because she said she’d read and loved my Glasswrights Series…) Little did I know that Maria V. Snyder was going to become one of my closest writing friends!
In the intervening years, we’ve attended many writing retreats together. I’ve stayed at her house, and she’s stayed at mine. We’ve brainstormed book ideas together, and we’ve agreed that neither of us could ever, ever write using the other’s methods
Maria has a new book out — STORM WATCHER. Here’s a summary of the book’s plot:
Luke Riley is lost. His mother’s recent death has set Luke and his family adrift. Even though his father, twin brothers, and their three Bloodhounds are search and rescue volunteers, they have been unable to rescue themselves and become a family again. The summer after sixth grade looms in Luke’s mind as a long, lonely three months where the only thing he can look forward to is watching The Weather Channel. Luke is fascinated with the weather, but since his mother’s death in a storm, he is also terrified. Even the promised 13th birthday present of a Bloodhound puppy fails to lift Luke’s spirits. He would rather have a different breed – a petite Papillon, but his father insists he get a Bloodhound.
When Luke decides to get the Bloodhound from Willajean, a dog breeder who owns Storm Watcher Kennel, he works out a deal to help at her kennel in exchange for the expensive dog. Thrilled to have a summer with a purpose, Luke befriends Willajean’s daughter, Megan and together they plan how Luke can get a Papillon puppy instead of a Bloodhound. But nothing seems to work as they struggle with stubborn fathers, summer storms, unhelpful siblings, and hidden guilt. Can one little white dog really save both families?
I’m the lucky owner of an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) of STORM WATCHER and I’m going to give it away to one lucky commenter on this post. Everyone who comments between now and noon on November 20 is eligible — I’ll draw one winner at random.
And those of you who aren’t lucky enough to win the ARC? Go buy the book. It’s wonderful!
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1. You’ve written books for adults and for young adults, STORM WATCHER is written for a younger audience. What made you reach out to this new group of readers? And which age group do you prefer writing for?
There are two reasons I wrote for a younger audience. At the time I wrote STORM WATCHER my son was younger and my other books were aimed for older readers. I wanted to write a story my son could read and enjoy. I also did not include fantasy or science fiction elements because he didn’t like reading those genres (I blame his father). Trying something different was the other reason I reached out to the younger group. I’ve never written a book from a male POV or a book that didn’t have magic or futuristic technology and I enjoy challenging myself. I don’t have a preference for any age group. The story idea drives which age group I’m going to target.
2. How is it different writing for middle grade readers, as opposed to adults or older kids? There’s a trend in a lot of books written for younger readers to address “dark” characters, or themes, or plots. Where do you think the line should be? Are there topics you wouldn’t write about for middle grade readers?
A few of the things I kept in mind while writing for middle-grade readers is my word choice and keeping the chapters short. Not that I “dumbed” down my prose, but I avoid more complicated words. I always remember when my daughter was in fourth grade and her teacher taught her how to pick a book that’s at the right reading level for her. The teacher said to read the first page and if there are over five words you didn’t understand, then the book was too difficult, but if there were less than three words, then it was too easy. That made sense to me and I tried to keep that in mind as I wrote. I also think shorter chapters makes the story move faster and I had fun coming up with titles for each chapter.
As for “dark” themes, I don’t think there needs to be a line drawn. The hard part with younger readers is not all of them are at the same reading level even though they’re the same age. One reader might be upset over a darker theme, while another has no trouble understanding it. This is where parents come in. They know their child best and can steer them toward appropriate reading material. Teachers also know their students strengths and weaknesses and can help guide them as well. As a writer, there are certain topics (sex, drugs, and violence) I wouldn’t use for middle-grade readers, not because I think they can’t handle them, but because I’ve no interest in exploring them.
3. Your other books have all focused on female characters (although we’ve certainly met fascinating male characters in them!) What made you decide to write about a boy, Luke? Could you have told the same story with a heroine, instead?
Since this book was written for my son, Luke, it made sense to name the protagonist after him. Although I should be clear that the character is not my Luke since he loves cats (I blame his father), he’s the annoying older brother, and, obviously I’m still alive . I could have written the book from a female POV, but not only did I want to try something different, but there are plenty of middle-grade books with heroines. I’ve heard countless youth librarians complain that there aren’t enough books for boys that don’t have sports in them. Well, here you go
4. In STORM WATCHER, the characters know a lot about the weather, and about search and rescue operations (among other areas of expertise.) Do you have a background in these fields? In general, how do you research real-world things for your novels?
As a matter of fact, I do have a Bachelors of Science degree in Meteorology and all the weather details are accurate and from my years as a working meteorologist. However, I don’t have a search and rescue (SAR) dog and I needed to do research to understand what’s involved with SAR. For this story, I read a number of books, surfed the internet, and talked to the people involved in the Red Rose Rescue, a local SAR organization. I’d like to write a book from Luke’s friend Megan’s POV as she trains her dog to be a SAR dog. If I do, I’d go more in depth and hopefully be allowed to tag along during a rescue.
In general, I try to do as much hands on research as possible either by taking classes or talking to experts. Books can only tell you so much and there’s nothing like experiencing it first hand in order to translate it for the reader.
5. Luke has two brothers in STORM WATCHER, and his interactions with them feel very realistic. Did you base Luke’s siblings on relatives of your own? If not, how did you get that true tone for the book?
I grew up with one older sister and no brothers so it wasn’t from my experience. However, watching my son and daughter as they grew helped me get the right sibling tone. They’d play together so nice, then bicker and fight, claiming they hated each other all within minutes.
6. Luke has some fears and anxieties that challenge his ability to live his daily life. Have you ever needed to confront similar challenges in your life? If so, how did you find the strength to overcome the challenges?
When I was younger, I was terrified of thunderstorms. The noise scared me and whenever a storm blew in, I’d crawl into bed with my parents. Needless to say, they weren’t happy to have their sleep interrupted, and I was constantly worried a storm would come when I wasn’t home or at school. You know the old adage that you need to face your fears? Well, it my case it worked. One afternoon, my dad and I walked to a nearby store to pick up a few things. On the way home, it thunder stormed. We huddled under the awning over someone’s front door as it poured. Lightning flashed nearby and thunder cracked right above our heads. When the storm slowed, we ran back to our house. Well, the next time it thunderstorm it was at night and I was already in bed. That time the storm didn’t seem so scary. After all, I was safe and dry. I sweated out the storm alone and my fear eventually turned into a fascination with storms.
7. A lot of people consider themselves to be dog people or cat people. Which are you? And why did you choose to focus on the breeds you wrote about in STORM WATCHER?
To be honest, I’m a dog person. I love dogs! I love my Kitty cat, too – he’s just…different (I’m still not sure if he likes me for me or because I’m the one who opens his cans). As for the breeds in the story, I knew Luke’s dad would be a SAR volunteer and there are only a few breeds that are typically used for SAR—Bloodhounds and German Shepherds. I wanted Luke to go against tradition and be willing to try something new so I thought, “What would be the complete opposite of a Bloodhound?” A Papillon! Plus they’re beautiful dogs and I would love to own one – too bad I’ve developed allergies to dogs over the years
8. STORM WATCHER was published by the small press, Leap Books. What made you choose to work with them, instead of your usual publisher, Harlequin? What has it been like, launching a book outside of a major publisher?
Harlequin doesn’t publish middle grade stories so they weren’t interested. I’d tried to get this story published with a major publisher back when I’d wrote it, but no one was interested at the time. Editors kept telling me they wanted a heroine and fantasy elements, but I wasn’t willing to change the story so I waited. Leap Books is owned by a friend of mine who was in my critique group years ago. I contacted her about the story and she liked it. I made considerable revisions to improve the story and update it. When I’d first wrote it, hardly anyone had cell phones.
I’m enjoying working with Leap Books because I’m a part of the entire process. With a major publisher, I’m in charge of the story and revisions, but the cover art, format, price, etc… are all out of my hands. There have been a few glitches, but overall I’m happy with the way the book turned out.
9. What were some of your favorite books when you were a middle grade reader? Do you think those books affected the way you wrote STORM WATCHER?
When I was younger there weren’t many middle grade novels. My mother tried to get me interested in the Bobbsey Twins, but I only read one book. My favorite books were Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys – I loved the mysteries and danger. I don’t think they affected STORM WATCHER too much, but they certainly affected the rest of my books. All my stories have a mystery element and my characters always get into dangerous situations.
10. What’s up next? What books are you working on, and what will we find next for our to-be-read lists?
My next book will be published on December 31 and it’s called TASTE OF DARKNESS. It’s the third book in my Healer series about a healer who can take on a person’s injuries and then heal herself. The first book in this series is TOUCH OF POWER and your readers can read the first chapter here: http://www.mariavsnyder.com/books/top.php if they’d like.
Currently I’m working on another book in my Study series. My Study books, POISON STUDY, MAGIC STUDY, and FIRE STUDY feature Yelena and Valek, two characters that my readers LOVE. They’ve been bugging me to write more Study books for years so now I’m finally writing more. That’s tentatively scheduled for January 1, 2015, with two more due out in 9 month increments.
Thanks so much for featuring me on your blog, Mindy! If your readers would like more info about me and my books, I have the first chapter of all my books on my website as well as a number of free short stories they can read. Here’s the link: http://www.mariavsnyder.com. And my blog is: http://officialmariavsnyder.blogspot.com
Find me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mvsfans and Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/maria_v_snyder
Links to buy STORM WATCHER: Leap Books | Amazon.com